I was at a NASA SoCal event in October and on Sunday I saw one of my fellow Honda Challenge competitors getting into his car, putting on his helmet and getting ready to head out on track. It seemed odd to me because the rest of the Honda Challenge field had just pulled off the track after our qualifying. As he fired up his car, he looked over at me and yelled through his helmet, “Aren’t you going out to qualify?” I hated to be the bearer of bad news, but the rest of us had already qualified. He missed the session, which meant he would start at the back of the pack for the race. For obvious reasons, he was very unhappy. Then he asked, “Isn’t the schedule for today the same as yesterday?” Sadly, the answer was, “No. The Sunday schedule is different from Saturday.”
I know we live in a digital world and information is available to all of us through our smart phones, but I’m old school. I like to keep things simple and easy, especially at the race track where life often isn’t simple or easy. I always print out the weekend’s schedule and put it in locations in our pit space where it is easy to view. This may seem like an elementary and simple thing to do, however I have seen many competitors fail to do this simple task and unfortunately lose out on track sessions.
The schedule itself is a huge part of racing. Time on the track is finite. We all work hard to get our cars prepared, tow all the way to the track, and we pay good, hard-earned money for our entry fees. Most racers are relegated to three sessions on track per day: warmup, qualifying and the race. If you miss any of them, you just cut your investment by 33 percent. Nobody wants to miss a session over a simple scheduling snafu. To avoid this problem, prior to towing out of town, I print the schedules for the weekend and then highlight them to designate what is important to the specific run group my team is in.
One of the things that is crucial about a racing schedule is the specific time of the driver’s meeting. Many driver’s meetings take roll call, and if you or a representative from your team isn’t at the driver’s meeting, you will be starting from the back of the grid. It doesn’t matter if you were the pole-sitter or not. There is important information being discussed at the driver’s meeting you can’t miss, like starting flags — standing or flying — and how much gap to have between classes at the start. Ensuring you don’t miss the meeting can be solved by highlighting on the weekend’s schedule when and where the meeting will be.
As mentioned at the beginning of this story, Saturday and Sunday schedules can absolutely differ. Sometimes they are the same, but when they are not, you could find yourself in the same situation as the unfortunate Honda Challenge driver who missed qualifying. Not only did he miss the chance to get on track, but he also essentially took himself out of the race by having to start in the back of the pack — and he is a good driver with a capable car who could have had a chance at a win, if he started near the front. I highlight the top of the schedule to designate the day and then Saturday night I ensure the schedules that are visible to the team are switched to Sunday. When the team wakes up, the Sunday schedule is the one they see and are working with.
To ensure the schedules are in an intuitive, consistent location, where the crew is used to seeing them, I created a clear plastic sleeve for the wall in our race trailer. I purchased some clear plastic from a hardware store, drilled some holes in it and attached it to the wall. When the rear trailer door is open the first thing on the wall is the schedule inside the plastic. Everyone on my team knows this is where the schedule is always located. I can simply slip in a new schedule for a new race weekend or from Saturday to Sunday within seconds.
The whole clear sleeve project probably took me 10 minutes and set me back five dollars in supplies. Printing schedules and highlighting them takes me two minutes and costs pennies. When you think of how extremely inexpensive and easy this method is to put into practice versus the money lost from missing a session on track, this is a no-brainer method for organization. In fact, the printed schedule in the clear sleeve at the back of our trailer is so commonplace that I see other teams walking into our trailer to see when the next session is. Even they know where to find the schedule. Constantly during a race weekend people walk by our pit space, racers, HPDE drivers, even fans, and ask, “Do you know what time…?” I just point to the wall and say, “Schedule is right there.”
The back of the trailer is a great spot for a schedule, but it isn’t the only location. I place schedules wherever the team gathers for any period of time. I installed the same sort of clear plastic sleeve in the motorhome right by the front door. When the team is sitting in the RV eating lunch or discussing race strategy, we can quickly refer to the schedule by the door. What is also in the RV and the trailer are large digital clocks. It doesn’t do anyone any good to know what time the next session is, if we don’t know what the current time is. We use atomic clocks that self-set the time and are always accurate. It was Wyatt Earp who said, “Accuracy is everything.”
I have discussed the checklists and clipboards we use at Double Nickel Nine Motorsports in my Toolshed Engineer column before. The schedule itself is a part of those self-created checklists to keep us on time and on track. Each of those clipboards has a printed, highlighted schedule on the bottom of the clipboard. Simply flip the board over and you can see the schedule for the day. Easy access.
Even though I print and highlight a bunch of schedules from NASA, I also type up a team schedule for the weekend with the data I gleaned from the official NASA schedule. This schedule is less cluttered and more specific to the things my team cares about. And speaking of printing schedules, I keep a small inexpensive ink jet printer in the motorhome to print out any updated schedules for the team during the weekend. I found a printer at Walmart for just $29 — it turns out it is cheaper to buy a new printer than to replace the ink cartridge in the printer.
Printing schedules, highlighting them, placing them where you can find them and digital clocks are just a few simple tricks to help you stay on time during a hectic racing weekend. The schedule is everything. Ensure you’re on time by knowing what time of day matters for your on track session and what time it is. And if you can do all that, then I will see you, on time, at the driver’s meeting.